Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Matthias Walkner has got his 2021 Rally Kazakhstan off to a strong start by placing second-fastest on the tough first stage of the event. Sam Sunderland claimed seventh following a small error while opening the timed special.

The 2021 Rally Kazakhstan kicked off with an extremely short, 2.8km Prologue on Tuesday to decide the start order for Wednesday’s opening stage. At a total distance of 515km, day one challenged competitors with a fast timed special of just over 280km, covering a mixture of open desert and more difficult-to-navigate technical terrain.

Following his third-place finish in the Prologue, Matthias Walkner was the ninth rider to enter today’s stage one. Choosing to ride his own race and concentrate on his navigation, the Austrian maintained a solid pace throughout the special. Completing the day without any major issues, Walkner gained one place on time to finish the stage as runner-up, and now sits second overall in the provisional standings.

Matthias Walkner: “It’s cool to finish the first day here in Kazakhstan with a result like this. It was really fast in the beginning and generally the navigation was quite straightforward. Over the whole day there were a few notes that were quite tricky, and you really had to pay attention to make sure you didn’t make any mistakes. It took a while after a long break from racing to find my rhythm and get back up to speed with the mixture of racing and navigating. I rode most of the day on my own and it wasn’t until right near the end that I caught the dust of some of the guys in front. I’m super happy, the pace is good, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the rally.”

An eighth-place result in the Prologue translated to a fourth-place start position for Sam Sunderland in today’s special. Making a strong start, the reigning FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Champion soon found himself at the front, following mistakes made by the leading riders. With the terrain becoming more technical around the third checkpoint, Sam too made a navigation error, which cost him several minutes. Regrouping, the Brit went on to complete the stage safely, and in seventh place, just over 10 minutes down on the day’s winner. With an advantageous start position for Thursday’s stage two, Sunderland is keen to make up time on the leaders.

Sam Sunderland: “I started as the fourth bike away this morning and was hoping that I wouldn’t have to open any of the stage, but the guys in front made a mistake and I found myself ahead. It was then my turn to make a mistake and I lost some time around checkpoint three. Overall, I’m feeling good and really comfortable on the bike, which is positive because we made a lot of changes on the run up to the event. It’s really nice to give the team some good feedback because everyone has been working really hard on this new direction. This first stage has been fast, the notes in the road book come up really quickly and it’s tough to stay on top of it all. There is a lot of wildlife out there too – horses and camels – but we were nice with them, and they seemed to be nice to us. All-in-all everything is good, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

The Rally Kazakhstan continues with the 301.82km stage two on Thursday, June 10. Riders will face another tough day of mixed terrain, starting with flat, open desert, followed by more technical tracks as they descend back towards the sea and the finish of the 280km special.

2021 Rally Kazakhstan – Provisional Results, Stage One

1. Ross Branch (BWA), Yamaha, 3:14:07
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:16:15 +2:08
3. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna, 3:17:44 +3:37
4. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 3:21:23 +7:16
5. Andrew Short (USA), Yamaha, 3:21:46 +7:39
Other KTM
7. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:23:31 +10:24

2021 Rally Kazakhstan – Provisional Standings (after Stage One)

1. Ross Branch (BWA), Yamaha, 3:19:53
2. Matthias Walkner (AUT), KTM, 3:22:04 +2:11
3. Skyler Howes (USA), Husqvarna, 3:23:36 +3:43
4. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Yamaha, 3:27:20 +7:27
5. Andrew Short (USA), Yamaha, 3:27:38 +7:45
Other KTM
7. Sam Sunderland (GBR), KTM, 3:30:44 +10:51